Toast the art of Scotland’s craft gin and whisky distillers

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When you think of Scottish distilleries, it’s the copper stills and oak barrels of a Highland or Island business that probably jump to mind.

However, today there are almost as many shiny new gin – vodka or rum – stills across Scotland.

All this activity this means that the traditions of distilling live on and, in fact, Heriot-Watt University (HWU) has crafted an enviable reputation for its International Centre for Brewing and Distilling with a highly respected set of graduates leading the surge in distilling.

The public seem to love their spirits as well and consumption continues to rise with gin claiming the start performer slot and Britons are reported to have bought 51 million bottles of gin last year.

No wonder the number of gin festivals is booming and just in the next couple of months there are gin festivals in Inverkip, Falkirk, Troon, Cambletown, Glasgow and Edinburgh, before June heralds World Gin Day and lots more juniper-focussed activities. These festivals often offer the opportunity to meet the distiller and discover the story behind their creations.

Kirsty’s Gin from the Arbikie estate in Angus is one of those where the back story is almost as fascinating as the drink.

Kirsty is the name of the head distiller, a former medical devices quality engineer, who graduated from HWU’s Masters course with a passion for distilling.

Her gin embodies the setting of the distillery which overlooks Lunan Bay. The botanicals are kelp, carline thistle and blaeberrys, along with the traditional juniper in a potato-based spirit. Records show distilling on the land dating back to 1794 and today Arbikie’s vodka, gin and whisky are made from ingredients grown on the farm and water from its lagoon.

This sense of place is also evident at the Old Curiosity Distillery on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Based at the Secret Herb Garden at Lothianburn, where herbologist Hamish Martin cultivates more than 600 varieties of herbs, the distillery uses hand-picked and infused botanicals from the garden.

Martin also had a previous life - as a wine merchant - before turning to herbs, while distillery co-founder Steve Ross put a life in London behind him for this gin adventure.

Together they have created a range of floral gins which magically change colour when a mixer is added.

Gin might be making the headlines, but Scotch whisky accounts for around 20 per cent of all UK food and drink exports.

There are 126 distilleries licensed to produce it, with more than 10,000 people directly employed in the Scotch whisky industry.

The importance of whisky to Scotland’s tourist industry cannot be ignored. In 2016, 1.7 million visitors travelled to more than 40 distillery visitor centres.

Recent openings include distilleries at Isle of Raasay and Clydeside in Glasgow, while the new Macallan visitor centre at Easter Elchies on Speyside is due to open this summer.

And if you want a reason to toast our national drink: World Whisky Day is on 19 May.

This article appears in Grand Tour 2018 which was published with The Scotsman on 31 March 2018. Read the emag of the Grand Tour 2018 here